First takeaways from the brand new NBC Series called Emerald City.
Yes, it is a re-imagining of The Wizard of Oz, the beloved 1939 version of the Frank L. Baum story that starred Judy Garland, Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger, Frank Morgan, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, and Margaret Hamilton.
The story starts up so quickly with Dorothy, as a nurse working in a hospital in Lucas, Kansas. It is the present day. First she steals some medication, (for someone else – Dorothy is no druggie). Then she turns down an offer a dinner with a doctor and rushes home.
Or it may have happened in the reverse order. By the time she gets home. the dark skies have become quite threatening.
As the tornado touches down, Dorothy takes shelter in a parked police cruiser, not realizing that there is a German Shepherd K-9 police dog in the back seat. Of course this car is swept up into the vortex of the tornado. There are no knitting grannies or cows sailing by in this tornado to be seen.
As expected the police cruiser crashes down and kills a witch. No, this is not Munchkinland. And there are no Ruby slippers – instead there are a pair of ruby gloves. Rather we’ve arrived in the territories of the Tribal Freelanders, likely a nomadic tribe living off the land.
Dorothy is led by a pack of scruffy children (a mild reference to the 1939 Munchkins) to an encampment.
There she’s given her marching orders. Rather than being killed by these warlike people, she will be walked to the border of the Tribal Free Lands by a guy. Then she will cross the border and proceed on her own, with the new Toto – the K9 police dog, to Emerald City. She’s told that the Wizard there might be able to get her home.
The yellow brick road is still there but only now it appears as an unpaved roadway, or a plain dirt and dusty road if you like.. Of course the first person she meets is the new Scarecrow. He’s not just hung up on a pole, with the crows totally indifferent to him. No, this time, he been strapped down and barbed-wired onto a cross. And the crows are still totally indifferent towards him.
Dorothy gets him down off the cross and though he’s in bad shape physically and mentally, she gets him up and on his feet. He can’t remember his name, so Dorothy calls him Lucas.
And off they go.
At this point I should tell you that (at least in the first two episodes) there’s less of the Baum tale of Dorothy’s Odyssey to Oz than you might have expected or hoped for. Things seem to go off on different directions and tangents, and many of those story threads that we see are either unexplained or lack coherence with what we’ve seen so far.
First let’s talk about the titular Wizard of Oz. Here the wizard is played by Vincent D’Onofrio. But to issue fair warning – when we first see him, he looks more like Robbie Coltrane‘s Hagrid from the Harry Potter films.
However before the first episode is over, we see the Wizard, when he’s back in his private chambers, he will remove his wig (the one atop his head). At first sight of him, I thought that he was wearing a wig as a character contrivance. Which is indeed the case. And I will also cast my ballot toward the beard being a fake as well.
Glinda the ‘Good Witch’ is portrayed by Joely Richardson, but she’s involved in some sort of sisterly warfare with her sister, the Black Witch (um…the Margaret Hamilton role), played by Ana Ularu. I can’t give you more details about this as it seems both extraneous and of little interest for we viewers.
Now you might be thinking of the famous flying monkeys from the 1939 film. I did notice one monkey like image but he was some sort of mechanical image projector (maybe this is a stand-in for a crystal ball) – think of something like a movie projector.
The red-coated marching guards (wo-e-o-wo-oh) that worked for Margaret Hamilton’s witch are so far not present either. There were four or five guys who were costumed with metallic like shoulder armor who may be the modern version. They appeared four or five times but I can’t tell you what they were about or how they figured into the story.
I guess that brings us back to Dorothy who is played by the attractive and sexy Adria Arjona. Now from my perspective, the whole Judy Garland portrayal of Dorothy was meant to convey wholesomeness, a good-heartedness, plus she was trusting, and loyal to a fault.
None of that seems to be present in the Arjona version. She seems far too conniving, or maybe we can call it opportunistic. She doesn’t seem to exhibit any kind of warmth.
And that ties in with my overall impression of the two episodes that have aired so far. This is not your grandmother’s Dorothy nor is it your adored Wizard of Oz. This is so far much darker, grittier, and violent.
There’s no way I can suggest, much less recommend this as something you’d want your younger children to see. I am not a big proponent of remakes, but I dutifully set aside two hours last Friday night to watch this. The 1939 film was colorful and vibrant, and joyful. What I’ve seen so far is dark and dystopian. Oddly this series seems much closer to Mad Max (the second film) or HBO’s Game of Thrones than it does to the Wizard we all remember.
We’ve not seen the Tin Man, or the Cowardly Lion yet, but I have a feeling that they’ll appear in the next episode or two.
I guess I’m saying that if you would like to see a truer Wizard of Oz , than this might not be for you. The Baum story is suggested and may even be the foundation or framework – but they’ve slotted ten episodes of an hour each – less time for commercials – so the story will need lots of padding. or stuffing.
The trailer for the complete series: